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Wedding Rituals

Marriage in Pakistan is a legal union between a man and a woman. Culturally, it is not only a link between the husband and wife, but also an alliance between their respective families. Because about 97% of Pakistan`s population is Muslim the Islamic law is usually observed.

Pakistani Wedding Events:
Given the diversity of Muslims, some of the most common events that are held in a Pakistani marriage include variations of the following. Marriage Proposal, Engagement, Dholki, Mehndi (Henna), Barat, Nikah, Registration, Reception, Rukhsti (Farewell),Valima (Walima), and Honeymoon. The only Islamic requirement is the Nikah and Valima. Other events are cultural additions and Registration is usually a legal requirement. Each is described in more details below.

Proposal party:

A proposal party is a reception held at the brides house, where the grooms parents and family elders formally ask the brides parents for her hand in marriage. In religious families, once the wedding proposal is accepted, the families read Surah Al-Fatihah, and then tea and refreshments are served. Depending on individual family traditions, the bride-to-be may also be presented with an item of jewelry and a variety of gifts.

Further information: Engagement

An engagement نِسبت is a formal ceremony to mark the engagement of the couple. It is usually a small ceremony that takes place in the presence of a few close members of would-be bride`s and groom?s families. Rings and other items of jewelry among affluent families are exchanged between the would-be bride and groom. Traditionally, the bride and the groom were not seated together, and the rings are placed on the bride`s finger by the groom`s mother or sister, and vice versa. In recent years, however, segregated functions have become a rarity and rings are usually exchanged between the couple. Prayer and blessings for the couple are then recited, and the wedding date is decided. This practise has no basis in Islam


The Dholki or Dholak (Urdu: ڈھولکی‎) celebration takes its name from the percussion instrument Dholki, which is featured heavily during this wedding celebration. Traditionally, many days or even weeks before the actual wedding day, women will gather in the house of the bride at night to sing and dance while accompanied by percussion instruments. Today, this ceremony has also been reduced to a single night of singing and is often combined with Mehndi or Henna ceremony.


Mehndi (Urdu: مہندی‎), the Henna ceremony, or the Rasm-e-henna ceremony, typically takes place one or two days prior to the main wedding day. The event is traditionally held separately for the bride and the groom. The henna is symbolically placed on the couples hands. The grooms friends and family bring along sweets and henna for the bride, and the bride`s family does the same for the groom. In the brides ceremony, the groom normally does not participate, and similarly on the grooms event, the bride stays at home. Female guests are sometimes offered mehndi at the hosts discretion.

Traditionally, since there were separate functions for both the bride and the groom, the grooms function was called `Tael` (oil) where female guests put some oil into the grooms hair. With the ceremony now held simultaneously for both the groom and the bride, the use of the term `tael` has diminished greatly. In some cases, the entire ceremony is instead referred to as `Tael Mehndi` (Oil and Henna) ceremony.

The bride normally wears a green dress or yellows/orange for the Henna celebration and uses only light, or mostly, no make-up. The groom will typically wear a casual Shalwar Qameez. The bride and/or the groom are brought forward in the ceremony under a decorative dupatta by their close relatives. In the bridal ceremony, a certain number of married women who are closely related to the bride apply henna to her hands, and feed her sweets. This ritual is supposed to bring good luck and longevity to the brides married life. Similarly, on the groom`s side, oil is applied to his head and sweets are fed to the groom.

A song competition also occurs in the Rasme Henna or Mehndi celebrations between the bride and grooms side. Young women and men will sing teasing songs about the other side (where the brides side pokes good natured fun at the grooms side and vice versa) and try to compete in this ritual sing song. Sometimes elaborate musical and acting performances are part of the Mehndi celebrations. Elaborate dance sequences and competitions between the bride and grooms families are also quite common these days.

Traditionally, the Mehendi was considered a womens event and men did not participate in it. The sing song etc. was left almost entirely to women. However, this has changed substantially in recent times with males featuring prominently in the Mehndi celebrations as well. A recent trend gaining popularity is to announce a color theme for the mehendi whereby guests are supposed to dress up in a particular color. Commonly used colors are bright reds, oranges and yellows. In some communities, the grooms mehndi traditionally features a dress code of green while the bride`s requires yellow.


Baraat (Urdu: برات‎) is the procession of the family, relatives, and friends of the groom and they accompany the groom to the brides home for the official wedding ceremony. The groom makes his way to the bride`s home on a richly decked horse or car and the barat follows in different vehicles. Usually they are also accompanied by a band playing wedding songs. The groom is given a warm welcome by the bride?s family with flower garlands and rose petals thrown upon the procession by the brides sisters, cousins and friends.


A bride signing the marriage contract, Nikaah at a Pakistani wedding

If the couple are Muslim, a Nikkah is performed. Nikkah نِكاح, is an Islamic official wedding ceremony. A marriage contract is signed by both the bride and the groom in presence of their parents and close relatives. Wedding is illegal without a Nikah. The Nikah is performed by a religious person who has the license issued by the government to perform this ritual.

Further information: Wedding
The groom usually arrives at the wedding with a band playing dhols, trumpets and horns - signalling the arrival of the mens side of the family
Families and friends enjoy a wedding ceremony in a marquee

A Wedding شادی, (Shaadi) is when the brides reception formally takes place. The event takes place at the brides house where large wedding tents may be set up in the garden or a nearby place. It has also become very common to hold the event in a marriage hall or hotel. The bride`s family is responsible for the reception and arrangements of the day.

The baraat or grooms procession indicates the arrival of the groom family and friends to the bride house. The barat is often accompanied by the rhythms of a dhol (drum) as it arrives and is greeted with flowers and rose petals by the bride family. It is customary for the brides sisters and friends to stop the barat from entering the arena until a sufficient amount of cash is given to them. This can lead to bantering, but usually harmless and just for fun, between the brides sisters and friends on one side and the groom`s brothers and friends on the other side.

The bride traditionally wears a red,pink or purple gharara, lehenga or shalwar kameez which is heavily embroidered. However, other bright colors may also be worn. The dress is always accompanied with heavy gold jewellery. The groom may wear a traditional dress such as sherwani with a sehra or turban though some may prefer to wear a western inspired suit.

The nikah is the Islamic marriage contract ceremony. It either takes place at the Shaadi itself or on a separate day at the brides house, before the shaadi event.

It is performed by an imam which formally indicates signing of the marriage contract. The bride and groom must both have two witnesses present to ensure that the marriage is consensual.

A dinner is served which consists of several dishes with meat featuring heavily in the meal. Some of the well represented dishes in a wedding meal include pullao, biryani, chaanp, chargha, various forms of roasted fowl and lamb, various forms of kebabs, naan, Shirmal, Taftan, Falooda, Kulfi etc. .

Showing of the face:

In Aarsi Mushaf Dikhana (Urdu: آرسى مُصٛحف دِكهانا‎), transliterated as Munh Dikhai is the ceremony of the showing of the face after the Nikah. A green, embroidered shawl is generally held over the couple head and they are made to see each other in the mirror and the bride unveils her face that she keeps hidden during the Nikah. This custom is also called as Mun Dikhai at times, though Munh Dikahi generally refers to the unveiling of the bride`s face after she enters her husband`s house. The bride and groom share a piece of sweet fruit, and family and friends congratulate the couple and offer gifts. Dinner is then served to the guests. The sisters, friends, and female cousins of the bride take this opportunity to steal the grooms shoes and demand a sum of money for their return. This is a very popular custom and the groom usually carries a lot of cash, due to the popularity of this custom. He pays the money to get back his shoes and the girls divide the money among themselves.


The Rukhsati (Urdu: رُخصتی‎) (sending off) takes place, when the groom and his family will leave together with the bride. The QURAN is normally held over the bride head as she walks from the stage to the exit (or if the ceremony is being held at home, to the main entrance of the house) in order to bless and protect her. This is a sombre occasion for the bride parents as it marks the departure of their daughter from their home. The departure of the bride becomes a very emotional scene as she says farewell to the home of her parents and siblings to start a new married life.

Traditionally, the groom travels by a decorated horse to the bride house and after the wedding ceremony takes his wife in a doli (palanquin) to his parents house to live. The horse and the carts have now been replaced by cars; it is typical to see a quiet bride with wet eyes as she sits in the car beside her husband leaving for her new home.

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